Thursday, December 2, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep7: Lonely Among Us

As I proceed warp factor forward I find myself taking on Star Trek: The Next Generation almost as a chore. This is one of the most electric moments of the affair thanks to the special effects.
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Season One is an excruciating experience when viewing it through the prism of entertainment alone. The enjoyment factor alone to this particular season of the science fiction series is nearly absent. Watching and appreciating it on some level, any level, is a daunting task. I feel I have been kind thus far with the series. One shouldn't have to work this hard. It's one thing to analyze smart science fiction you enjoy, but it's entirely another when a program lacks both.

Save for Season One, Episode 6, Where No One Has Gone Before, it has been less than satisfactory at best. I'm reminded of Bruce Springsteen's One Step Up [from the classic Tunnel Of Love] and the chorus, "One step up and two steps back," because that is exactly what the creators have done here following Where No One Has Gone Before with Season One, Episode 7, Lonely Among Us. A missed opportunity of building on the entry before is where this entry has gone.

I have illustrated many reasons along the way, along with some additionally fascinating commentary by others, why this series is failing so abysmally in its first season. If I can offer you images from the episodes without saying too much going forward I'll be doing well. Fingers crossed I make it through Season One of ST:TNG.

Antican Marc Alaimo, future ST:DS9 star villain Gul Dukat, is well made-up as the lead Antican. He plays the dog well. Alaimo would also appear as different characters in ST:TNG's The Neutral Zone, The Wounded and Time's Arrow.
Synopsis: The crew of the Enterprise is tasked with escorting the ambassadors of two battling races [the dog-like Anticans and the Lizard Men-like Selay] to Parliament. They desire to esentially eat each other. The Enterprise passes through an energy cloud and picks up a lonely lifeforce that first affects Worf and Dr. Beverly Crusher. Inevitably it takes on Captain Picard as its host. Could it be even this lonely, little lifeforce sees the Captain as a weak vessel of leadership? At the very least, he seems awfully suceptible to failure from a host of external forces. Picard, in essence, takes on a new personality as he delivers the alien home. It exits with Picard as pure energy into space. Picard rematerializes via the transporter room a la ST:TOS The Enemy Within. Picard resumes his role as Captain of the Enterprise from Riker. Meanwhile Data channels Sherlock Holmes through his own inner detective. Sure sounds fascinating right? No, not really, because it isn't.
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The bizarre Lizard Men of Flash Gordon [1980].
Apart from the typically weak Season One script, a rare example from D.C. Fontana, we are presented with make-up effects that may rank slightly higher than those attributed to the Ferengi in The Last Outpost. The lizard men/ race reminisces of the creatures found in Dino De Laurentiis' Flash Gordon [1980] starring Sam Jones. The dog creatures are not impressive and Planet Of The Apes [1968] did a far superior job with moving prosthetics nearly twenty years earlier.

The use of Picard's character in Lonely Among Us felt eerily familiar. Creating a schism of personality using the Captain seemed to be borrowing from Star Trek: The Original Series' The Enemy Within complete with a play on the transporter. While events do not unfold the same, they are treading significantly familiar ground with the concept here. On the whole, it's another mostly uninteresting, muted installment where characters are force fed poor dialogue that is sorely lacking. The attempt to give Data a personality by suddenly introducing us to his interest in Sherlock Holmes is a case in point. It feels contrived and lacks the flow of ST:TOS.

Marina Sirtis is showing signs of becoming the voluptuous one.

This simply doesn't cut the mustard, but you can see an effort to move the needle in a different direction here. The Data segment feels as unreal and unnatural as the Data character himself. The creators of ST:TNG continue to execute boring stories with this one. If I didn't feel lonely watching this one, alienation might be a more fitting term. ST:TOS never left me cold in this way. This is less than satisfying, mostly forgettable Star Trek material.

Lonely Among Us: C-
Writer: Michael Halperin/ D.C. Fontana
Director: Cliff Bole

The return of Colm Meaney is one of the episode's highlights.
Director footnote: Cliff Bole [?-]. Bole does a solid job behind the camera. The flaws in his first appearance here rest solely with the material. The popular director was behind the camera for 11 episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man between Season Three and Five, three episodes of The X-Files, 25 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 7 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and 10 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. He also worked on Charlie's Angels, V, T.J. Hooker, MacGyver and Baywatch.

11 comments:

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

by the way... sorry Will. : )

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

Again, you speak truth.

"Lonely Among Us" is another weak episode of the first season of TNG, I agree.

The episode is overloaded with plot lines (the warring ambassadors/aliens, the alien energy creature come aboard, and Data's fascination with Sherlock Holmes), yet not one of the stories is handled particularly well, or fully.

I mean, why not give us the Antican/Selay as the main event instead? It's just there to fill time, it seems.

And again, Star Trek: The Next Generation presents for us a "paradise" we might not actually like to live in.

No nationalism/patriotism (per the Oliver North version of Q in "Encounter at Farpoint"), no inter-crew sexual mingling (we must "avoid temptation," Picard reminded us in "Naked Now") and now, no eating red meat, per "Lonely Among Us."

Listen, I'm a liberal -- a proud liberal! :) -- but even to me this TNG world seems like a terrifying top-down, politically-correct universe.

I believe this is one reason why the series is so dull in these early days. Everyone is so concerned with lecturing us about the proper way to live in the 24th century that the episodes feel like political sermons and not entertainment.

Those who are not politically correct -- like Worf -- all come from outside Starfleet, and that's disturbing.

I'm not advocating boozing it up or promiscuous sex (well, maybe...), but episodes like this make me miss the individuality of a character like Kirk or Scotty, who could drink (real alcohol, not synthehol...) and carouse but still be great heroes and great Starfleet officers.

The point is that humans have foibles and vices...but can overcome those flaws. Like Bones, or Kirk, or Scotty overcome them.

Contrarily, if you don't give the characters any foibles or vices, they have nothing substantive or personal to overcome; and they become terribly obnoxious, hectoring people, telling us lowly mortals how we could be better.

The Next Gen cast of characters is a little lock-step, a little brainwashed for my taste. All hail the (Secular) God of PC! I mean, remember when Tasha addressed Q's courtoom and said the gathered audience should get down "on its knees" to what "Starfleet is." Yikes...that's scary, isn't it?

A paramilitary organization (with apparently indoctrinated followers...) demanding worship from those not fortunate enough to live by its utopian ideals?

I also have grave reservations about the manner in which the transporter is used at this episode's conclusion. If this technique could work to successfully re-constitute Picard, then how come, in Skin of Evil, the Enterprise didn't simply re-constitute Tasha's pattern from the moment before she was beamed down and killed by Armus?

True she would have lost five minutes of "time" on the planet battling Armus, but she'd still be alive! And I'm sure, if you excuse the pun, she could have "lived" without those five minutes on the surface.

To me, "Lonely Among Us" opens up a whole can of worms better left closed in terms of transporter tech.

(The same thing is true of "Unnatural Selection." If Dr. Polanski is super-aging...let her die. Then re-constitute her last stored transporter pattern, from before the infection at the station, and let THAT version of her continue...).

See the problem?

Okay, Will...fire away! :)

Thanks for another great review, SFF! Enjoyed it very much...

best,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Okay. Wow.

John- This is like Lonely Among Us Review Part II. I enjoyed your contribution just as much and made me realize I missed certain points.

This is indeed Star Trek: The Neutered Generation. It's like they've been sifted through one of those flour sifters and purified to the point of boredom and politically correct drivel.

Are you sure you're not secretly conservative- just a little? Ha.

You know, this is the problem I have with the current administration. Obama and friends always telling me how to eat, what I should spend, how I should help, blah blah blah. I'll do what is right in my heart and I don't need you to tell me how to live Mr. Obama. It is painful. I digress only to join in on the subtext of your commentary, which is wonderful.

I always enjoy your perspective and I think ST:TNG is truly living a politically correct world light years from all of those facets of The Original Series I adored. I loved its politically incorrect actions, sex at all hours [with aliens] and boozing it up. It felt natural even or at least logicval within the context of a given story. These were people I liked rather loved and still do. Sign me up for that Enterprise but not this one! Good grief. If this is Utopia envisioned for the future it's leaving me with a bad taste.

One of the points you mention which I overlooked entirely without actually pointing it out was that these three disparate storylines are poorly developed and this is certainly one of the aspects that really harms the material.

Also, and again you mentioned it, the Anticans/ Selay thread which is useless, pointless and not really of any significance really should have been THE STORY! There it was. It would have had conflict and been entirely more interesting [if the dialogue was half decent and not neutered beyond normal human recognition or even normal human liberal recognition]. [Smile]

nce again, I thank you, for the kind of commentary that makes me reconsider an entry in much the same way your books [Exploring Space:1999] have allowed me offer certain perspectives on Space:1999 that I might not have considered.

Anyway, your perspective that this particular crew sits on high on the bridge like men among gods is fairly accurate. It's consdescending and boring. It's like Obama said, "you'd think people would thank me." I mean seriously. I'm looking for flaws and vices I can connect to here but all I see is a flawed concept that is entirely lifeless when considering the original series.

Your points about the use of that transporter are spot on. The whole thing is preposterous. And Skin Of Evil... oh boy, that's another story. Perhaps the cast disliked Tasha more than we knew and opted not to help, but were too kind and politically correct to say anything about it. Kidding.

Well, this season is just... ugh... speaking of Paradise... onto Justice. Another dandy.

Thanks John very much for inspiring the additional analysis and the kind words.

Looking forward to Will's arrival too.

Regards,
sff

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF

Star Trek: The Neutered Generation! I love that. Sadly, it's a spot-on joke. That's exactly how the show feels in these early days.

And thank you for your kind words about my comment and Exploring Space:1999. I love coming here, because your posts are always excellent retrospectives, always great food for thought, and always very-well written.

I'm definitely a lefty in terms of politics, but I also have to be fair about what I write in terms of entertainment and how it succeeds or fails.

This TNG view of a politically correct future (no patriotism, no meat-eating, etc.) just isn't very appealing on a pure entertainment level, you know? It's dull.

It is a bit strange, how Star Trek got from "let's not kill each other over petty differences" to "don't eat red meat" in the span of twenty years, essentially.

The original was about surviving the nuclear age, the Cold War, and not traveling to the stars with hatred in our hearts.

TNG Season 1, by contrast, seems very much concerned about delivering a pre-existing and smug sense of political dogma out to the universe.

I would complain just as loudly, by the way, if the show were dully espousing a hard right-wing dogma instead.

I think that later seasons were better "balanced."

warmest wishes,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Amen. Well said.

I know you are a discerning, sound and fair mind of judgment my friend.

Those later seasons will be a welcomed departure from Season One.

I'm not sure how it survived.

Television is indeed a fickle thing.

Dempsey Sanders said...

ST:TNG does seem to come up with some boring storylines at times I agree, especially Lonely Among Us, I began to lose hope forthe series after watching that.
Great post, enjoyed the read.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Dempsey.

Thanks so much for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the read. I appreciate hearing that.

It's funny, I mean, I know there are detractors of ST:TNG in general, but it's hard to believe anyone could enjoy this first season specifically.

I know it gets better and I look forward to it. This is a grind for sure. Thanks again Dempsey. SFF

Will said...

How DARE YOU. Actually, Lonely Among Us is one of only 4 TNG episodes I haven't seen so I haven't missed much. . .but what the hell, I'll punch JKM anyways.

I will say this: sci-fi shows work the opposite of non-genre shows (at least successful ones). Usually, a hit non-genre or a 'general genre' (like Lost that has mass appeal) usually has good first seasons and then slowly decline. Sci-Fi shows, on the other hand, especially Star Trek, learn and grow. Almost any sci-fi show is more complex, fine tuned, and superior in all ways in the later seasons then in the beginning.

I like the 'feel' of season 1 TNG but, yes, the plotting of most of the episodes in s1 are either ripped off from the original series or just boring. You'll see flashes of awesome in season 1, like 'Heart of Glory' but, for the most part, S1 is, indeed, a chore.

Babylon 5 (terrible first season, amazing 2nd season)

TNG (terrible 1.5 seasons, great until about middle of season 6)

DS9 (generally bland but decent 1st season, bad second season, amazing from there on out)

Farscape (good but less complex then later seasons)

etc. etc. etc.

Man, you guys were just waiting to try to rile me up, weren't you!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Oh sure, the old "I haven't seen it trick." Ha! Just kidding my friend.


I loved your thoughts on the non-genre versus science fiction shows Will. It's a well thought out opinion. I will have to give it some thought to see if it holds true. :) I need some examples. : )

I have to say that I haven't cared of rthe feel of Season One at all, but I wholeheartedly agree with you Will about Heart Of Glory. That is a standout and more on that later, but I really think that one is what I was looking for. Couldn't agree with you more.

I also loved your Season One reviews. I'm right there with you.

Babylon 5 Season Two is mostly a highlight with a few semi-lemons.

TNG 1.5- absolutely. Season Two which I checked out the first half has been right in line with Season One. Good grief.

DS9. Can't comment but I've heard exactly that.

Farscape- another good one.

You could say Seinfeld improved with age if that counts.

Anyway, great points and always enjoy hearing your counterpoints right here. great stuff my friend. Best, SFF

le0pard13 said...

I enjoyed your spot on (as usual) review of this episode, SFF. I have to admit that it has an equally stimulating batch of comments. John's transporter meta-argument sure would have saved a whole lot of crew members over the seasons ;-). Sometimes, the early ST:TNG season resolutions relied too much on the god-like tech vein. All of this made for some fine reading, guys.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Absolutely. Thanks for the kind words brother L13.

I agree. John's point about the transporter and yours about the ongoing ST:TNG technology crutch as a solution is a good one.

And like the Prime Directive, they fall back on the tech crutch as the creators see fit, but if someone has to die, technology isn't enough - unless Picard makes it so.

It works the same as Picard's flexibility with the Prime Directive and I know ST:TOS had its liberties there too. Cheers L13.